“Gentle soul”, “gentleman”, “smiling presence” — these are some of the phrases those who worked with and knew late Kannada actor Puneeth Rajkumar used in their tribute for him. If you noticed, one word never found its way into any tribute — “but”. Because, Puneeth lived his life that way — spreading joy and radiating positivity, without any ifs and buts.
He tried to rise above narrow considerations, and even while he continued working in commercial films and backed young talent through his PRK Productions, named after his mother Parvathamma.
The actor-producer-singer died on Friday, October 29, aged 46. He reportedly complained of chest pain while at the gym and was rushed to the hospital; however, he was unresponsive to treatment.
Puneeth’s Instagram feed was all about fitness and health. His body was truly his temple, and he shared his fitness regimen without holding back. And he actually smiled while doing the most strenuous of exercises. He enjoyed working out. He was also generous to a fault, encouraging every production with a mention on his timeline.
What commercial cinema might not have allowed him to do, Puneeth attempted through his home productions, beginning with the slow burn Kavaludaari, directed by Hemanth M Rao. He was in the middle of a collaboration with Pawan Kumar for Dvitva, co-starring Trisha, who tweeted: “I refuse to process this,” after news of Puneeth’s passing broke.
Audiences across the South might have known Puneeth only after he became a lead actor and explored television, but Kannada audiences have loved him since his dancing days. Watch this song ‘Kaanadanthe Maayavaadhanu’ from the film Chalisuva Modagalu, starring his father. It was evident early on that dance and being in front of the camera was something that came naturally to Puneeth. Most of his songs spread joy, and had people grooving along.
As a child actor, at the age of 10, he won the National Award for Bettada Hoovu. He would go on to earn the moniker of “Power Star” Puneeth, or Appu as his fans fondly called him.
Like the lyrics of his title song in Natasarvabhowma went, “He is the king of the cinema… dance with Appu”
And even as he earned more fans and built a market for himself, Puneeth also put in place plans to give back to the industry that gave him name and fame. PRK’s focus, he once told me, is backing new directors and actors, and innovative scripts. His dream was to explore and experiment with all genres of cinema, but backed by a solid rooted script with its heart and head in the right place. He worked across the board with other artistes — he even sang ‘Gicchi GiliGili’ in Rathnan Prapancha, which released recently on Amazon Prime.
The tributes poured in from all film industries, especially those in the South, few people allow the popularity they’re born into to sit easily on them, and Puneeth managed that, near effortlessly. Twitter is full of stories of lift doors he kept open, of his kindness, and living in the moment.
Last year, Siddharth had discussed a film to act with Puneeth but things didn’t work out. “If I knew what I know today last year, I would have done that film,” he says.
“Puneeth was a good, kind, humble, god-fearing family man. He believed as much in his talent as in humility, He and his brother Shivanna carry the same unrehearsed organic kindness and goodness. Puneeth is the kind of person who remembers to tell you what he admires about you, and if he sees your film, he’ll call you and tell you that. He gave so many young talents in Bengaluru a stage, a forum. His passing is an irreparable loss for Kannada cinema, which is knocking on the doors of national domination, I am sure Kannada cinema will go to great heights and I am just really sad that Puneeth, while he will be watching and being proud as a true son of Karnataka, will not be a critical part of the main stage when Kannada cinema gets its due. My thoughts are with his wife and daughters and family and friends and admirers,” he says.
Pannaga Bharana, whose film French Biryani, Puneeth co-produced last year, says, “Our Appu sir was a man with a golden heart. An actor who loved everyone, a producer with a vision. He had his foot forward to always encourage new-age films and talent. He had a vision for PRK Production, and, most importantly, believed in collaboration. He gave you freedom at work, and immense love from his heart. He’s one of a kind.”
In an ironic way, even when one cannot wrap one’s head around Puneeth’s passing, it is a song featuring a young Puneeth that offers some solace.
“Kaanadante Maayavadanu Namma Shiva Kailasa Serikondanu
Koduvudannu kottu, Biduvudannu bittu, Kaiyya Kottu Odi Hodanu”
(Our Shiva has disappeared without a trace, and gone to Kailasa. He gave what he had to, left behind what he had to, and left).
How else do you explain a life cruelly cut short at 46, a life filled with so many possibilities and so much more to give.